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Cost of flying to increase with a new runway while ICAO calls for major biofuel investment

9th August, 2016

Big increases in ticket prices would be the only way to reconcile a new runway with climate laws, new analysis shows. Up to £43 would need to be added to a return flight from Manchester to Amsterdam, £162 for a return flight from Newcastle to Sharm El Sheik, and £295 from London to Singapore in order to control emissions, the research, which was published yesterday, indicates.

Air traffic controls: the hidden costs of a new London runwayby the Campaign for Better Transport and Fellow Travellers, uses the Airports Commission’s figures on carbon pricing to estimate the additional cost that would need to be built in to flight tickets in order to achieve carbon targets if a new runway goes ahead. Aviation CO2 emissions are likely to overshoot the level that would be compatible with the Climate Change Act even without expansion and allowing for improvements in aircraft technology and more efficient air traffic control. Limiting passenger demand through pricing is one of the few remaining options for closing the gap. But adding a new runway increases the scale of the challenge, ramping up the amount that would have to be added to ticket prices in order to keep emissions to a sustainable level.

The effect is that fewer people would be able to afford to fly and “it’s hard to imagine a less popular way of winning public support for a new runway” says co-author of the report Leo Barasi, in the Guardian today.

People worried about climate change shouldn’t kid themselves that this is a realistic solution to the emissions problems a new runway brings. It’s near-impossible to imagine the government putting such a high price on flying purely to protect the environment”, he concludes. Saying no to new runways looks to us like a better way forward.

Tackling emissions while allowing for growth would need massive biofuel investment  

The alternative to managing demand, of course, would be to find a way for aviation to grow without increasing its emissions. Increases in the production and use of aviation biofuel remains one of the industry’s key hopes when it comes to tackling climate change. But the volumes that would be required are staggering.

The UN’s aviation body ICAO recently published its 2016 environmental report. To achieve the industry goal of ‘carbon neutral growth’ from 2020 out to 2050 without recourse to carbon markets, the report suggests, would require “nearly complete replacement of petroleum-based jet fuel with sustainable alternative jet fuel besides the implementation of aggressive technological and operational scenarios.” This would require “approximately 170 new large biorefineries to be built every year from 2020 to 2050, at an approximate capital cost of US$15 Billion to US$60 Billion per year if growth occurred linearly.” It would also require the highest possible levels of agricultural productivity, availability of land for feedstock cultivation, residue removal rates, conversion efficiency improvements, and reductions in the GHG emissions of utilities.

Even if such a massive investment could be delivered, it wouldn’t prevent the sector from taking up a growing share of the world’s remaining carbon budget, Carbon Brief reports. Under a 1.5 degrees emissions scenario, if the industry’s carbon goal were to be achieved, aviation would still be responsible for 12% of the world’s carbon by the middle of the century. “Even the ultimate aspiration of the sector (carbon-neutral growth) is off the mark and out of tune with what is required to stabilise the climate system”, Dr Joeri Rogelj, one of the world’s leading experts on carbon budgets, told Carbon Brief.

Image credit: Pieter van Marion via Flickr